For his sixth recording for RareNoise Records, following his 2011 solo album Frequent Flyer and subsequent collaborations with vocalist-multi-instrumentalist Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (Berserk!) and Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin (Twinscapes) as well as two albums with the adventurous band Naked Truth (Shizaru, Ouroboros), the restlessly creative bassist-composer-producer Lorenzo Feliciati has realized his most ambitious and personal project to date in Koi.
A concept album based on the life of the renowned fish, Koi features former Japan drummer Steve Jansen and current King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto along with pianist Alessandro Gwis, trumpeter Angelo Olivieri, saxophonist Nicola Alesini and a horn section consisting of tenor saxophonist Stan Adams, baritone saxophonist Duilio Ingrosso and bass trombonist Pierluigi Bastioli. A suite-like offering that intersperses mesmerizing ambient interludes with full-blown prog-rock type anthems, Koi brilliantly showcases Feliciati’s composerly vision while highlighting his considerable chops on fretted and fretless electric basses. He explains the story behind this compelling concept album:
“The meaning of Koi fish (carp) in Asian culture has long been a source of fascination for me. Traditional Chinese or Japanese folktales describe Koi that swam up a waterfall and through the dragon gate and were magically transformed into dragons. Through perseverance and endurance, carp were therefore able to become mythical beings, and two thousand years later Koi fish still symbolize perseverance and endurance. The Japanese recognized these fish not just for their beauty but for their ability to induce otherworldly states of perception in the observer. These altered states of perception ultimately lead to the attraction of high energy and this manifests in the form of prosperity of all kinds in our lives.”
He adds, “I always had a Koi pond in my house in the countryside of Perugia (Umbria). The story of my love for Koi has, therefore, deep personal roots. As soon as I started to think of a core concept to act as guideline for a new album, the idea of a Koi fish struggling with waterfalls and swimming upstream to become a dragon emerged as a perfect device to both inspire me and guide listeners to different levels of perception.”
The musical journey of Koi begins with the spacious, echo-laden piano soundscape “Kohaku” and is followed by the hard-hitting “New House,” a Feliciati composition that is brimming with kinetic momentum and based on a repetitive riff augmented by punchy horns. Lorenzo’s fretless bass melody is doubled here by muted trumpet while baritone sax deepens the groove. The icy and hypnotic interlude “Kumoryu” is followed by the moody, slow-grooving requiem “Oxbow.” Says the composer, “This is probably my favorite one on the album. It was the first one I composed and asked Gwis and Jansen to play on. So probably it has everything I thought were the elements of the project: darkness, groove, some great contributions from the crew, including some killing solo lines from Gwis. And the coda with the distorted rock bass line fits perfectly with the fact that I am a rock bass player first and foremost.”
Following another ambient interlude, “Black Kumonryu,” Feliciati is reunited with his Naked Truth bandmate Mastelotto, who provides the rhythmic pulse on “Noir Alley Verdigris,” a potent number which falls somewhere between King Crimson and Weather Report. “I built this piece around a great drum track that Pat gave me while working on new ideas for Naked Truth’s third studio album,” Feliciati explains. “Pat is a special musician and friend and partner in many of the things I did in the last six years so I love the idea to having him on the album, if for only just one track.” Alesini plays a particularly melodic soprano sax solo on this exploratory piece. “Nicola is a great player who has collaborated with David Sylvian on some of his music and I thought that his great sense of melody was perfect for the song coda,” says Lorenzo. “It is just a simple repetitive one-note riff with the beautiful drums of Pat Mastelotto, so I needed a melody more then a screaming sax on this tune.”
“Ogron” provides a breath before Feliciati and crew launch into the dynamic, odd-metered “Narada.” Says Lorenzo, “I composed the piano part then asked to Gwis to make it better-sounding, and he did a great solo on this one. There’s also some great odd-time playing from Jansen making a 7/8 groove (I composed it as a 5+2) sound like a dance beat. He is a master at that. I also love the horn section sound together with my distorted bass, a great sound that you can find all over the album.”
Feliciati turns in his most expressive fretless playing on “Margata.” As he explains, “It is my homage to Jaco Pastorius. His way of playing melodies is still unsurpassed. I think that the music of the last 40 to 50 years is heavily influenced by his playing and his approach to composing, so I tried with respect to show how much I love what he did.” Following another mesmerizing interlude in “Kuchibeni,” Feliciati unleashes his fuzz bass chops on the powerhouse “Fish Bowl,” which incorporates trombones and bass in a low-end unison motif before yielding to a throbbing vamp. “This piece started as a Zappa influenced bass/horn section unison riff, but as usual it turned into something else. I didn't want a funky, traditional brass section with screaming trumpets playing staccato riffs, so I used only bass trombone, trombone and baritone sax to match and blend perfectly with the sound of my bass. I also love the way my bass line during the middle section is moving around Jansen’s drums and electronics and yet at the same moment it seems that he is the one moving around the bass line.”
The collection closes with the title track, which travels from minimalist intro to cinematic crescendo. Says Feliciati, “‘Koi’ represents the end of the story: the Koi now is a dragon so the initial minimal piano thing comes from the surprise of the Koi looking at herself in the water and discovering she is now a dragon. Then the relaxed melody with light beatbox loops symbolize the start of a new life as a dragon. It is a simple song that can easily be the start of a new album, as it represents the moment of the new start for the Koi, now a dragon.”
Of his latest opus, Feliciati says, “I started to compose the music after having a detailed idea of the musicians I wanted on the album. I am lucky to have a good number of great musicians that are also good friends and I was more than happy to add their touches to the music of the album. And my feeling was that to have a couple of steady musicians through the entire album was a better way to focus on the writing and arranging. And as usual, I leave the people that play my music complete freedom to work on their vision of the parts I write for them. Or course, I have a very clear idea of what I don't like, but the rest is admitted with no problems.”
Felicati has high praise for all the musicians who participated in Koi. “The first name to be written on the list was that of Alessandro Gwis on piano and laptop-generated sounds (with a special pickup designed by Bob Moog that lets him use the acoustic piano driving laptop electronics using Reaktor). We play together in a lot of different projects and he is one of the best in being very personal in his playing but always respectful of the compositions. Also, he is great at merging electronic sound with acoustic piano. I have always loved the drumming of Steve Jansen, from his days in Japan to his solo projects (I especially love his album Slope). He is one of the three drummers I always dreamed to play with, along with Pat Mastelotto and Terry Bozzio. For the music I had in mind for Koi, I thought that Jansen was perfect: great taste for adding unusual sounds with samples and/or acoustic percussion and also a very powerful but clean drum sound.
“As for the horns, I asked the trombonist Stan Adams to arrange the riffs and lines I composed and he did a great job, adding his touch whilst maintaining complete respect for the music. He has been the main trombone for 30 years in the Orchestra of the Italian National Television and the list of the artists he has played with is impressive. The other two horn players are Pierluigi Bastioli and Duilio Ingrosso, both young lions of the big band jazz scene. And to play some of the little melodies I imagined coming from a trumpet (often with a mute, a la Miles Davis) I asked Angelo Olivieri to join the album. He is a great trumpet player with a long history in the free jazz scene here in Italy but, again, I was sure of the sense of taste and respect in his touch.”
Listeners will be intrigued to follow Feliciati’s story of the golden fish becoming a dragon. “Compared to the other projects that I have done for RareNoise, I can say that Koi is a way more ‘minimal’ and restrained piece of work,” he says. “It was a very challenging work to complete, but deeply satisfying.”
released June 29, 2015
Lorenzo Feliciati : Fretless and fretted electric basses, electric guitar, keyboards and sound design
Alessandro Gwis : Acoustic piano with Reaktor running on laptop
Steve Jansen : Drums, percussion, rhythm design & programming
Pat Mastelotto : Drums on Noir Alley Verdigris
Angelo Olivieri : Trumpet
Nicola Alesini : Soprano Sax on Noir Alley Verdigris
I've enjoyed this guys a lot before, but this is substantial growth nevertheless. A huge expansion to band's color palette.
I only wish they finally find a drummer - the better the instruments sound, the more obvious it is that the drums are programmed. This tends to become a tiny flaw to the band's releases morkot